Monday, December 27, 2010


God bless the Austrians! Speaking of yule goats and yulicorns and horned beasts of all manners this holiday season, I want to write one time about Perchten. My friend Heidi, who was brought up a halfling in Austria and America just returned from a winter visit to the motherland. She returned with pictures and videos and stories from a magical and lovely sounding snowy terrain, which has quickly and surprisingly become my next dream destination (sorry, Chile and Panama, you will have to take 2nd and 3rd chairs...) We sat down after work Thursday and sipped some Austrian Schnaps*, and then later some very strong Romanian grappa, and Heidi answered all of my tedious questions about Krampus and Perchten, two Austrian traditions that I wanted a little more 411 on.

Here's the breakdown:
Krampus is a devily dude (scary horned beast) who rolls with Saint Nikolas in early December. Whatever children have been good get goodies from St. Nick, and whoever was bad gets coal and crappy stuff from Krampus. He is frightening and gross, and is probably a Christian version of the pagan Perchten.
Perchten comes closer to Christmas at around the time of winter solstice. It is a scary horned beast that goes through the streets with switches (made of horse hair I believe). He whips teenage boys who taunt him and romps through the streets cleansing the evil from the dark time of year. Heidi showed us some vide footage from the town her mom lives in. First, men from the countryside paraded through the streets rhythmically banging cowbells. Following them were the Perchten, scary horned beasts, who would periodically push or shove someone or whip a teenager. Absolutely fascinating. Apparently, there is quite a debate going on in Austria about which region can claim to be the first to come up with the Perchten tradition. Whoever it was, good job. I like it. A lot.

Speaking of liking a lot, check out Heidi's engaging story telling expressions:

*Schnaps is the Austrian spelling and indicates the real stuff, which is good. Schnapps is the crappy American version of Schnaps. Just saying...

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Snow falls upon a small quiet mountain town

When I was a kid I liked snow. In fact, you could say maybe I even loved snow. As a young adult I was loving snow too. I lived my most potent year of young adulthood in my aunt and uncle's cabin alone in central Virginia. It snowed a lot that winter, and I was alway out in it- walking and walking and walking. Tracking animals, visiting neighbors, walking to keep my 19 year old self company. Walking in the snow to make sure I was tired enough at the end of the day. It took a lot of snow walking to get me tired enough back then. But that might have been my last year of loving snow. For approximately the last 15 or so years I have not loved the snow. It is messy, uncomfortable, dangerous and gets on my nerves. You could say Dana + Snow = Frowny Face. People know this about me. If you know me, you might be inclined to call me up when it is snowing and say something like, "Hey Dana- I bet you're having a hay day in this snow!" This is a sarcastic comment, and you are a hilarious joker.
This is background information for my current weather report from the quiet town of Hot Springs, NC. It is snowing a good one. 6 or 8 inches of glorious quiet light white stuff that is just gorgeous. It snowed all day Christmas and today, a soft gentle, steady, but relentless snow that has melted my icy heart and remembered me about what I used to love. This snow is the stuff dreams are made of- fluffy and so light it practically offers no resistence when shuffled through. I was with Jenna today, but I made it out for 3 little short walks to get my thick sugary holiday blood moving and fill the ole lungs with some fresh winter. Walking home tonight the effortless movement of delicate snowflakes through the clean air and the reflection of Christmas lights off the crystalline terrain was an experience to be revered and remembered. This must be what the white Christmas hype is about.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

My holographic altnernative option

A few weeks ago my friends and bosses at work, Donna and Heidi, travelled to D.C. for a long weekend of modern art museum visiting. They returned with volumes of photographs of "installations," books of modern "works" and all sort of excited feelings and inspirations about their own artistic endeavors. The morning of the first day of work after their trip, Donna, Heidi, Rachel and I gathered in Donna and Heidi's kitchen. Donna was quite excited to share her photographs of the art with Rachel and I while Heidi was doing some dishes. I tried to engage myself in the excitement and explanations Donna was dishing out, but after a couple minutes I discovered myself more engaged and interested in Heidi's plastic ziplock bag washing technique over in the sink than the art. I was busted of course and laughed at of course, and I just said, "I don't understand a lot of art. I just don't get it." And that is the truth. It's like poetry- most of the time I don't really understand what is going on. With a lot of art I can't understand why someone would spend so much time doing that because what the heck is the purpose?

Later that week, Rachel and I were waiting at the mulch yard to get loaded up (with mulch in the truck that is), and I decided to duck into Gail's Variety and Mattress Shop, which is directly next door to the mulch yard's office. I had always wanted to go into that place. I told Rachel, "I'm just gonna peek in there- I'll be out in 2 minutes." The minute I stepped in the door I felt like a kid walking into a candy shop. There were ugly trinkets, redneck pride tee shirts and little weird shit items everywhere. A paited resin cross-eyed fairy riding a unicorn, a box of tiny plastic pegasuses for $1 each, a tee shirt that reads "Body Piercing Saved my Life" with a picture of Christ's bloody hands nailed to the cross, baskets of plastic flower arrangements. Half of the store was a weird low-tech showroom of mattresses with hand made signs writted in magic marker ink. There was a lady behind the counter who semi-jovially answered the phone, "Good morning. Gail's Variety and Mattress Shop. Can I help you?" I guessed that most likely about 99% of the people who called were all family. 20 minutes later Rachel came in the store to gently tell me it was time to leave, and I realized I was really jacked up. I wanted to show her this and that and then some more this and more that. I had tagged about 10 tee-shirts to show her and of course the fairy and pegasus what-nots. I seriously almost bought multiple items in there, but I stopped myself at the last moment telling myself to think about it and if I still wanted the stuff tomorrow, I would probably be back at the mulch yard and could make the purchase then.
On the way back to the truck, Rachel looked at me and giggled. "What's so funny?" I demanded. Rachel chuckled and said, "That Variety and Mattress shop- That's your art gallery." It was true- that weird little hole in time and space jazzed me up enough to rival Donna's enthusiam for what I call confusing "modern art."

But wait a minute. Surely that's not it. Pointless Chinese-made crap strangely displayed in a failing American small business surely can't be all that lights my creative fire (although when I was in China a year ago I did fore-go shop after shop of beautiful bone and wood and jade carved antiques and go crazy about a booth of gaudy vinyl holographic portraits of Chinese nature and deities to the shock and confusion of my mother and friend who had been happily purchasing items of real value all day...)

I was able to blissfully identify another source of creative inspiration last weekend, when I was invited to a live Nativity Christmas party in which the guests were to dress as characters from the nativity story. At first I thought, 'That sounds good,' and I reckoned I could be the donkey or mother Mary. But on the day of the party, I realized that I had a much more appropriate option. I went to the party as Els Unicornilius, who is a unicorn. I vamped out my unicorn helmet in plastic poinsettias, wore all white with blue rain boots, and used a blue green sparkly scarf as a tail. It felt so good to be wearing the unicorn helmet again, and it got me in the spirit to have great conversations with other party goers about god and meaningful seasonal tradition (and our American lack there-of), the transient nature of our culture and all that is lost, the value of repetition in spirituality, and such. A few people asked me to remind them of the unicorn in the nativity story, to which I replied, "The unicorn is the unmentioned beast of the Nativity." A few days later when I was relaying the details of the party to Donna the art appreciator, she was laughing and laughing. She said it was performance art. I told her that the traditional Nativity story with all its traditional characters and portrayals is only one view of a holographic image. If you tilt the picture ever so slighty to catch the light a different way, you will see a completely different scenario all together. This is where you will find the unicorn. Donna laughed and laughed.

I suppose I have always loved holographic images and all things with a hidden option. Those cheap vinyl landscape set me on fire in China. As a kid I used to love those dolls that you could flip upside down and it would become a completely different doll. Little Red Riding Hood flipped upside down became the bid bad wolf. I am fascinated with the contrary meanings of Tarot cards you get when you pull a card upside down.

Tonight I get to go to a Solstice Yule Goat party, which celebrates some historical tradition of some Yule Goat. Anyone who comes to the party as a yule goat gets a prize. Guess who will be arriving as a Yul-icorn? I hope my prize is as subversive as my appreciation for art.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

This Week's Projects

This week is the terrible weather marathon. From snow to wind to freezing rain to ice to very cold temperatures, we have had it all. The Dirty Hoe went ahead and called the week early on because the it is just pretty much unworkable. I have been indoors more this week than I probably have in all the time combined (excluding sleeping time) since about March. I've been passing the days with moderate levels of industriousness, and it's been moderately fun to engage in these winter activites... Enjoy the show and tell:

#1 "Swedish Jam Shortbread": Jenna and I made 3 batches to share- it is insanely delicious and addictive and keeps for quite a while.

"Swedish Jam Shortbread" Recipe:
Mix together: 1 Butter recipe cake mix
1 egg
1/2 cups chopped pecans or walnuts
1/3 cup soft butter
Press that mixture into a greased and floured 9x13 pan
Spread jam of your choice over the mixture- my favorites are apricot and strawberry.
Bake at 350 for 25-35 minutes.
Cool and then glaze with:
1/2 cup 10x powdered sugar
2 1/2 tsp milk
1/2 tsp almond extract

Let set. Cut into small squares and serve with holiday breakfast or as a sweet snack.

#2 Multi media Christmas cards: I did the background watercolor and Jenna did the collaging on the foreground. I thought they turned out great...

# 3 Rag rug, pound cakes and linden blossom mead: The rag rug is an ongoing winter project. I plan to keep expanding it as long as I can keep coming up with fabric that loosely coordinates with my projected color scheme of my future house interior, which is the colors of the luna moth (put that in your pipe and smoke it.)
The pound cakes are some Christmas baking.
The linden mead is something Sally and I made this past summer. Check out the most bodacious labels made for me by Heidi in Deutsch. Bottling the mead was a somewhat involved process. First I had to soak the collected wine bottles in hot water and soap so that I could then scrub off their original labels. Then I ran the bottles through the commercial dishwasher at the Mountain Magnolia to sterilize them. Next I siphoned the mead from the fermentation vessels into each bottle. I learned years ago that you cannot bottle wine and then go to work- siphoning the wine by sucking the tube (which is my technique) inevitably involves swallowing substantial amounts of wine in the process. Once at the garage apartment I got up early in the morning and starting working on my Things to Do list before leaving for work. First on the list was to bottle some homemade wine. I started sucking the siphon and bottling several kinds of wine. Before I knew it I was stumbling drunk and it was about 7:30 in the morning. I had to sober up before I could go to work at about 11:00! At least my schedule was flexible that day.
Anyways, after I bottled the mead I went down to Kinkos and made some labels (via color copies and laminate label paper). It was an ordeal, but I am tickled pink with the way the labels turned out. Thank you Heidi!

Maybe tomorrow I can get out for a walk or something.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Spring Creek Polar Bear Club

It has one member that I know of. If there are others out there, show your faces. Yep, I did it this morning. I got out of a warm bath and thought to myself, "Geez I'm hot." There was only one thing to do. I grabbed my bathrobe and my towel and headed out the back door and down the snowy path to the bank of Spring Creek. I had to bust a layer of ice with my bare foot in order to wade in and lie down in the shallow water up to my neck. I was quickly up and gasping and hollering and grunting from deep in my primal gut. You see, in case you don't live around here, it was ungodly cold today. The kind of cold you just don't even want to be in. And I loved my polar bear dip- every one second of it. It was my winter tonic*- to invigorate the spirit and get the blood flowing, wake up the dulled over cabin fevery senses and break the monotony of the days like busted ice. I hurried inside and bundled up and drank hot ginger tea to keep the circulation going. It was good. Real good.

* Note- I would never dip in the frozen water on a crazy cold day like this if I felt physically compromised in the least. I knew it was a good tonic for me because I was feeling robust, but craved a little invigoration.

Monday, December 13, 2010

On writing

Over five years ago I decided I wanted to write more. You see, I love stories, and I love telling stories and hearing them and then relaying what I have heard-you get the picture. Some people had been telling me I should start writing some of my stories down. I decided I wanted to do that, but I wasn't doing it. My dear friend Meg, who lives in Texas, sent me a brand new composition notebook and a large bag of M&Ms for writing inspiration. I sat down in the floor in front of the heater one night in the garage apartment and wrote about half a story about Hopey (the plott hound under the Christmas tree for those of you who don't know). I wrote until my hand was stiff and I needed to go to sleep. The next morning I got up and looked at what I had written, and it seemed dumb. I ate up all the M&Ms in a couple of days and never wrote another thing in that notebook.

Maybe it was that same winter or maybe it was the next, my friend Rosemoon told me I should start a blog. I thought the word blog was downright dumb, and after all the whole thing sounded pretty complicated. I told her I couldn't do that because I didn't know how to do that kind of thing. She kept telling me to start a blog and finally when she showed me how to do it, I said OK.

I have been keeping a regular blog ever since. Being practically a neo-Luddite my own self, I don't know why this format works so well for me. I really don't. I am a fan of all things that are going out of practice. Longhand cursive, face to face conversations, cake walks, letters, library research, tea and talking, made in USA, # 2 pencils, what have you.

I have a drawer full of #2 pencils, and I have been wanting to use them bad lately. I have just been craving that feel of a sharp graphite point on a tangible piece of paper. What? I messed up? No sweat- I will just erase that part with the handy rubber eraser and move on. It is wonderful. The wood, the mineral, the rubber- a trinity of underappreciated usefulness.

My problem has been, I have had all these brand spanking new #2 pencils sitting around (most of them have a Halloween theme- thanks Mom), but I have had no pencil sharpener and a kitchen knife just wasn't "cutting" it. I kept meaning to pick up a handy little pencil sharpenerwhen I was out and about, but then I would always forget until I was home and wanting to use a pencil. I guess it's just the type of thing that's fairly easy to go around forgetting.

Well, my pencil troubles were all unexpectedly resolved yesterday during a snowy visit to my grandmother's house I made with my sister (another dying trend- visiting with family for no good reason.) We were taking her some sweets we had baked- a little something to make the snow storm a little more palatable. She started asking us what we wanted in our stockings this Christmas, and I couldn't think of a damned thing. I wanted to say "no stinky bath products please," but finally I thought of one silly little thing. "I would like a pencil sharpener for Christmas." She chuckled the chuckle of someone who is humoring someone who just said something dumb, but then I saw her lovely hazel eyes light up with a revelation.

"You want a pencil sharpener? I have an extra one. I just bought several the other day because they were on a fantastic special!" She disappeared into the other room and re-emerged after a few moments with this beauty.

Perfect. The Duel Hole Sharpener. Love the Chinese. Love the grandmother who buys extra Duel Hole Sharpeners because they are on a fantastic special. Love the #2 pencils. If the internet crashes, perhaps I will pull out my old composition notebook, wipe the dust off, and finish that story about the dog. If I re-read it and something sounds dumb, I will erase it and try again. When I am finished, maybe I will brew some tea, invite a few people over, turn off the cell phones, and read the story right off the page. Wouldn't that be lovely...

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

D&J's Day Together

aka: Candy Roastarama

Let's see... Today it snowed in Hot Springs- pretty much all day long. We were going to go to Asheville, but we nixed that plan and stayed in. Our mom gave us a killer candy roaster* to bake, and unfortunately I did not take a picture of it before we started. It was a real beauty. We cleaned that bad boy out, cut it into sections, and baked it with a little water. Then it was almost lunch time, so I went ahead and whipped up a little coconut squash soup.

My recipe:
1) Sautee some celery, chopped onion and garlic in a soup pot for 10 minutes in coconut oil.
2)Scrape about 4-5 cups of winter squash meat out of a pre-cooked squash and add to soup pot.
3) Add a can of coconut milk, 2-3 tsp coriander, 2-3 tsp tumeric and whatever other spices you like. Fresh grated ginger would be good.
4) Puree with an emersion blender or even a regular mixer.
5) Add salt and pepper to taste.

After lunch we commenced making whoopie pies with some of the remaining candy roaster meat. I found a Martha Stewart recipe that tasted good, but the little half pies spread out and got too thin for my taste in the oven. I added ground up chocolate chips to the batter for shits and giggles. We made a cream cheese frosting for the middles of the pies and assembled them late this afternoon. Check them out.

The fun wasn't over yet, and we did a little laundry then headed out to the closed in front porch sun room to decorate Jenna's Christmas tree. We realized this was the first time we had decorated a Christmas tree without our mother's participation, and we are hoping she likes the job we did. If not, oh well...

We did a good job today, if we do say so ourselves.
Love, Dana and Jenna

* Did you know? It is believed that candy roaster squashes originated in our fair state of North Carolina.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Forest and Lily, 10 months

One of the sweetest things I think I have ever seen in my entire life was the sight of Forest and Lily holding hands while simultaneously nursing my dear friend Julie. The twins are healthy and happy. So are the parents.

Julie and Jeremy have taken to parenthood like natural champs. Forest and Lily are well adjusted delightful little chips off the old block. They have a daily schedule, and they eat, nurse, nap, bathe and go to bed at the same time. It works like a charm. The babies are smiley and I think I heard each one cry one time in three days. It is very exciting to see the personalities begin to emerge from each one, Lily the laugher- always ready for a joke and pretty wild about slapstick humor, and Forest, watchful and mellow, yet determined. They are seeming quite different from each other, and the household is full of good times.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Last Day (of the season)

SG and I finished our season of work today as groundskeepers of the Mountain Magnolia Inn, my parents' business. To the best of my calculations, I have been tending those 2 1/4 acres of grounds there for 12 years now. Every year I tell myself and others that it is my last year, and then early the next spring I go back and work the grounds for another year. There are several truths of the matter. One, I love the place. Two, it's a killer work gig for Hot Springs, land of very few job opportunities. Three, each season that I work the grounds there, my awareness becomes more finely tuned to the sense of place and the subtleties that can only be perceived about a place slowly over time. I love how I can smell the first breeze of spring there in about mid February, and how the flowers of April and May always shock me with their beauty and intoxicating aromas. I love to drink wine from the enormous petals of the magnolia tree, and how its perfume transports me back to my childhood and sometimes it seems even to a time before I was born. I love the summer cicadas, and how the very first wind of fall blasts me with sadness in August and sends walnut leaves swirling all around the place- I always have to stop in my tracks and watch that happen. And then the third week of August rolls around and like clockwork, the spider lilies pop up out of the lawn with no leaves and bloom like crazy. In September the zinnias get really moldy, but the garden asters go hog wild. October brings leaves to rake, and there is always lots of comradarie to be had with fellow rakers. On a chilly damp day we burn all the brush and branches pruned and gathered throughout the year, and usually someone from the fire department comes to see that everything is OK. In November the light is scarce afternoons as we prepare our hearts for the dark of the year and tuck in all the gardens for the winter. The end of the end is cutting off the well pump and draining the irrigation. That happened today.

Tending the gardens there year after year satisfies some deep need of mine- a need to stay put and be a part of something. I lament the fact that I did not get to spend my childhood on that piece of earth, with those trees to climb and the river just across the railroad tracks. I wish I had known this place my whole life, and that all my people were here and that there were not missing links or fragments of life and memories. Really, I have this opinion that us humans are not hard-wired to live the way we live in this day and age, to see so many places but not really know them, to take in so much information and try to keep tabs on the whole wide world.

But alas, we are an adaptable species, and I will continue patronizing the world wide web, and listening to the news on NPR as I drive to a whole other city and county to work most mornings. I will continue to watch foreign movies and travel to other places and talk to all sorts of people just to hear their stories. The thing is though, I bet come next spring, about the middle of February, you can find me pruning hemlock trees and sowing larkspur seeds at the Mountain Magnolia in Hot Springs- even if I may have sworn up and down I wasn't going to be doing that again.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Book Review: Stones from the River

Stones from the River, a novel by Ursula Hegi

I just finished reading this book, and people, let me go ahead and recommend it for a beautiful winter read. The book follows the life of a woman, Trudi Montag from her birth in 1915 through the second World War to 1952. The setting is Burgdorf, Germany, a town through which the Rhein river flows. The story chronicles the life events of Trudi, a dwarf woman, and her journey to find herself at home in a body that is taboo, a time that is full of war and suffering, and a town that has a deeply rooted tradition of hiding its secrets. The story successfully weaves the lives of the people in Trudi's community, giving us readers access to the layers of stories and secrets that the townspeople bring to Trudi, who has an unspoken role as the town story keeper. We learn not only of the dark secrets of the town- affairs, obsessions, violence, incest, bigotry and betrayal, but of the subtle undercurrents of love and kinship in the town- the workings of the unknown benefactor, love and loyalty between neighbors, secret underground hiding places created by townspeople to hide and protect Jews from the Gestapo, private redemptions of individuals in an impossibly conflicted time period.

What I love about this book is that it is thick and complex. There are many characters, and throughout the book we learn the humanity of each one- the inner struggles, the play of the light and the dark, the complexity of each life story. The book spans a fairly long time period, and Ursula Hegi takes her time weaving the stories of the townspeople together through Trudi's life and work in her family's pay library. She navigates us through the painful years of World War II, slowly guiding us into the darkness and terror which was the Nazi regime and the genocide of the Jewish Germans. And then she holds us there in the darkness with Trudi and her father, other neighbors who hide the Jews, and the friends who are hiding. And while we get a good long painful glimpse of the dark side of humanity, she never abandons us there without something beautiful to be aware of. And when the war is over, she reveals to us the deep wounds and scars that are left on the town, the community, and the individuals whom we have gotten to know quite intimately. We are also allowed to see the resilience of the human spirit, but not without the signs of brokeness. She addresses a topic most people wouldn't touch with a 10 foot pole, and she does it boldly, justly, sadly and beautifully.

One of my favorite aspects of this book is the continuous presence of the river in all of the stories within stories. I realized when I finished the book that the river was a main character, and it was the crucial character that tied together so many of the stories, the witness and the active participant of the town's collective story through time and space. And Ursula's storytelling is very waterlike- fluid and constant, with emotion swelling and flooding like the river, then retreating and finding stillness like an eddie beneath a large rock. She makes us realize that our lives can be understood better in the context of our environment. I like the fact that the river ties it all together.

If you are looking for something deep and meaningful for the dark time of the year, read Stones from the River. Then call me because it would be nice to talk about it.

Friday, November 19, 2010

The Shadows are Long, my Breath is Short

November 19 and I have succumbed to a wind invasion. This is a Chinese Medicine term for a cold. Well, based upon my limited understanding of the complex medicine, it can be a condition of disharmony in the body caused by actual wind (air moving quickly through space) or by airborn pathogens. It's funny how language informs experience. Ever since my introduction to the phrase "wind invasion," I find myself more edgy and aware of my suseptibility when the cold wind is blowing. Anyone who spends any amount of time with me can tell you that I am quite vigilant about covering my neck at all times when the wind is blowing- because this protects from the invasions that are carried by this element (which, in my opinion, can also be cleansing and uplifting and definitely has its place in the scheme of things- moving weather systems in and out and such). Of course, the wind and the pathogens it carries usually won't get me unless I am run down, which I must say, after 11 months of busting ass at 2 jobs and working the land on weekends, I might be a little. Temporarily. It is all temporary. So for the time being (like today and likely tomorrow), I am resting in the warmth of my mother's house, out of the wind, drinking hot and spicy ginger tea and sleeping whenever I feel sleepy. It's not too bad.

I did venture out of the house in the warm part of the day to go out to the land and see about the progress of the house building. Part of the first floor was there. Check it out.

The shadows were long, of course, what with the days being short and all. I stood on the partial floor and imaginged how the light will come in the windows. Please god help me Daniel Boone, I hope this all comes together- floors, walls, windows, roof, budget and all. Heck, I'll even toss sanity into that list.

With the shadows being long and dusk falling soon these days, the nights are colder and the wind more dangerous. Last weekend, Michael T came out and helped me by cutting down the old tall pear tree. Poor pear tree. It kicked out some sweet juicy pears in its day and grew tall, very tall. I bought 20 pear root stocks this spring so that I could graft the old boy, but turns out there was no proper scion wood. I even pruned off a large branch hoping for some new shoots of growth for a late summer graft job, but no luck. The tree was rotten inside and dangerous standing there in the middle of the comings and goings of the place that was not trafficked much by humans at all for years and years and is now seeing all sorts of folks rolling up in there. I had a moment with the old boy, then Michael did the deed. It took a minute though, because we had to secure a rope for me to pull with all my might at the right moment, and Michael had to do some skillful chainsaw manuevers. When the tree finally fell safely and not on any person or Airstream, we stood there for a moment looking at it. Then Michael commenced cutting it into pieces that could be roped to the truck and hauled down the driveway. When he cut the first log, out popped a bat. The little feller was most disturbed and I believe frightened. (S)he was probably hibernating in her/his trusty ole undisturbed hollered out pear trunk. What a problem! I poked at it with a stick because I couldn't help it, and it got awful mad. It showed me its teeth and hissed and clicked. Then it climbed up on the stick and I hollered to Michael, who was standing right there, "Look, it's on the stick! It's on the stick!" I was real worked up. Then it flew into the woods. I couldn't stop recapping it to Michael over and over. "That bat just popped out! That bat was so mad! That bat got on the stick! That bat just flew off into the woods!" He just let me repeat myself over and over and over. I guess I was pretty excited with that little run in with a dark mysterious creature.
The next evening, after I had been foraging in the woods for lovely native plants to transplant to the spring area, I was standing in the clearing, and wouldn't you know it, that bat came back at dusk and flew 3 circles around where its pear tree had been. It was sad. Then it flew off back into the woods, where hopefully it found an equally suitable place to spend this season of long shadows and short days.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

I love Hot Springs because

Some people refer to Hot Springs, NC as the banana belt of Western North Carolina. While this is a "figure of speech," and we do not indeed grow bananas here, we are nestled into a protected valley which allows for hotter summers and more temperate winters than the surrounding areas. Many people seem to expect Hot Springs to be a colder place than nearby towns and cities. Perhaps this is due to the windy mountain roads that bring you here, but our elevation is low, and the weather is warm. For example, one year it was so warm on Christmas that Jenna and I decided to do some post-stocking canoeing. Luckily we wore life jackets because the river was up and just past the "Sand Bar" we wiped the F out. We saw some waves ahead of us whose crests were about at eye level, and I knew that our little patched up lake canoe would not stay upright. No way no how. The French Broad flows north from Asheville through Marsall and then Hot Springs to Newport. That friggin water from Asheville was very very cold, and when we wiped out, the temperature of the forceful water knocked the breath right out of us. We had to swim that long rapid until the water was still again and we could get to shore. We heaved ourselves out of the water at the base of a cliff and found a deer skull with antlers. After climbing the cliff up to the road, we walked home in soaking clothes and life jackets. The canoe was lost, but later found, and that's another story. I meant to tell you that it can be pretty warm around here even in the winter.
Like yesterday, I was at work at the Mountain Magnolia Inn, where I have been tending the grounds for 12 years now. It warmed my heart to find an "Apricot Nectar" rosebush in bloom and kickin out hella new buds to boot. There was also a little Teddy Bear sunflower by the lamppost fall display holding its own against the wintry looking mountains in the background.
I love the gardens there, which boast a hearty hedge of large rosemary bushes and pineapple sage that overwinters (or at least did once.) I think we are even in a different growing zone than surrounding areas. It can be really nice this time of year.

Friday, November 12, 2010

The Keds

The year was 1993. The setting was suburban south Charlotte. Julie and I were about 17 and connected at the hip "blood sisters." We were about one half straight edge, one half granola, and one half pure wacko. High school mostly sucked and in all of our free time we journeyed out into the world of Charlotte and its surrounding chaos, seeking meaning and beauty-- and finding ourselves laughing a lot in the process. Funds were sparce- our jobs as hostesses at the Old Spaghetti Factory only afforded us gas money to power my 1979 doo doo brown Pontiac Catalina, "The Brown Rocket," which could comfortably seat 3 in the front and 4 in the back. We would get up real early in the morning sometimes and drive it out of the city 45 minutes to the nearest mountain, Crowders, and climb up for daybreak, breathing in something we considered purer nature than the trail that ran through our adjoining neighborhoods (something we walked everyday eating honeysuckles and keeping tabs on the pair of red tailed hawks that nested there.) We would hurry down the mountain and load back up in the Rocket and still make it to school on time. I guess with any money we had left, we would buy cassettes and records at the local neighborhood record shop. Once I bought Julie a cd- that was a new thing back then. It was Dead Can Dance "Into the Labryinth." That was the only cd I bought.

Daytime fun for us was easy and covered- go outside and study nature. Night life was a challenge. Of course we weren't tired, even after all our tromping around, because we were teenagers. We probably would have been content to walk around at night too, listening for owls and watching cockroaches climb out of the sewer and sneak around the asphalt toward the houses. But our moms would not let us wander around at night for fear of our lives and well being. So we had to get creative.

Once we went to a Krispy Kreme late night and took pictures of people coming out of the restroom. We got a good one of a man with an embarrassed look on his face coming out of the women's. A lot of nights we would talk for hours on end to our friend BTW who lived in Davidson, wore only black, was a bona fide genius and chess champion, loved the night sky and didn't like very many people other than us. Sometimes we would go out to a coffee shop called something like the Penny Cafe, where the lighting was low and there was mellow jazz music playing and people were quietly enjoying books or a game of chess. This was real good. We would buy one cup of peppermint tea and stay for hours. But one of the owners supposedly overdosed, and they quit letting people under 18 in there.

There were a lot of nights when, desperate for some stimulation of any kind, we would go down to the 24 hour Harris Teeter mega grocery store and wander around (always ending up on aisle 14 to pay comical homage to this weird chocolate spread product called Crumpy). Then we would go next door to Borders Books and people watch while sampling music and looking at the books we couldn't afford to buy. The particular event I want to relay to you now occurred one of those nights at Borders.

Julie and I had gone in to Borders yet again, just for something to do. I think they closed at 10:00, and it must have been sometime after 9:00 that we were in there. We were particularly restless that night, at least I was, and I couldn't seem to focus on anything. I was wandering around the store wishing Charlotte didn't suck. Nature called and I told Julie I was going into the bathroom. She said she would come too (you know, girls always go to the bathroom in pairs...) There were 3 stalls in the bathroom, and the middle stall was occupied by someone wearing a pair of dayglow white spotless Keds, about size 6. The person was still and quiet. I took one outside stall, and Julie took the other.

I don't remember whether I sat down on the commode or if I just squatted over it. All I know is that out of nowhere, I mean I really didn't know it was coming AT ALL, blasted what is likely the loudest most forceful fart of all time of humanity. It was so loud it sounded like a cannon. It was epic, the stuff legends are made of, like a catacalysmic explosive from the Otherworld. Something perhaps channelled from Thor, the thunder god. What followed is something that I will ponder for the rest of my life.

After a brief moment where I was stunned in space and time, I began laughing. The laughter erupted from deep deep within, like water that had been dammed for a long long time. I laughed in convuslive waves that felt almost like vomit. I laughed and laughed until I almost fell down in the stall. It was a painful laughter, something totally and completely out of my control. It was an epic laughter- a laughter of a degree that may never be experienced by me again in my life. And it went on and on for about 10 minutes. I could hear Julie over there, laughing and laughing like a muppet in the other stall. I don't know if the laughter hurt for her as well, but I suspect it did. And all the while, the Keds in the middle stalled, the brand new dayglow white size 6's, NEVER BUDGED, NOT AN INCH OR EVEN A CENTIMETER. Not a single peep or movement came out of the center stall. NOT FOR THE ENTIRE DURATION OF THE WHOLE EVENT.

And that is something I will ponder for the rest of my life.

Sometimes Julie and I still talk about the Keds. What in the name of God and everything holy on this planet was that woman doing in there? Was she OK? Perhaps she went to some safe place in her psyche, curled up in a fetal position and rode it out that way. Perhaps she came face to face with her Maker. Did she look Thor in the eye and reckon with him, with very still feet? Whenever I think about the whole thing I get a feeling deep within, a reminder of the illusion of control. It is like a renewed awareness of the pressure of the dam, holding back the pool of laughter and farts.

This story is for you, Julie.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Halloween Weekend: A photo diary

Jenna and Nauni kick off the festivities Saturday afternoon:

Food was abundant- this dessert display was only the beginning; other feast items included beef stew, barbequed bison with homemade cole slaw from Girl in an Apron, vegetarian chili, cornbread from Jenna, fresh tomatillo salsa, winter squash, apple crisp, Iliana's no-bake cookies... What am I forgetting?

Rachel takes a good long whiff of Laura's persimmons butter:

Jason enjoys a crucial walk in the woods:

Fall color is kickin:

This looks like trouble...

So does this...

Sunday morning stoking up the fire in my pink bathrobe:

Laura follows Zoe's lead and cooks a croisant over the fire by inserting a stick into it and performing a slow roast:

Laura does a little dance as she prepares to do some Sunday afternoon drawing:

Hair of the dog:

Jenna busts out some moves to a little Michael Jackson...

Admiring Angelo:

M.H. and Walker hanging out by the fire: